Andre Smith is comfortable in his progress and believes the right tackle job is his.
The free-agent acquisition got the start on Friday night against his old team, the Cincinnati Bengals, but on Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings returned to practice it was T.J. Clemmings taking the first-team reps during full-team work. On Monday, Smith was back working with the rest of the starters.
“I feel like it’s mine, most definitely,” Smith said Monday when asked about the starting spot. “I just have to continue to put in the work and make sure I do in games.”
There may be a difference of opinion there, however.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said he doesn’t believe Smith or Clemmings has won the job yet, or that the coaching staff is leaning toward one of them.
“I think both guys have had a lot good plays and both guys have had negative plays. We’re just trying to become as consistent as we can at that position,” Turner said.
“Both guys are working over there and I think we’re getting good production. It’s a long process. I think it’s very good competition right now. We don’t have to make a decision right now, so that’s good. You just get a chance to see them playing games and play against good players.”
Clemmings was a full-time starter at right tackle last year after Phil Loadholt suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the preseason. Loadholt retired before training camp, but the Vikings had brought in Smith to compete for that job anyways.
“I think with Andre, you have a more experienced player, a guy who has seen a lot of things. He adjusts - or should adjust - quicker to different things the defense gives you,” Turner said. “With T.J., you still have a very young player who thinks every day; it’s something new can come up. He’s working hard, and he adjusts to it well, but there is still a lot for him to learn.”
Smith gave up a costly third-down pressure on the Vikings’ first drive, causing Teddy Bridgewater to rush an incomplete pass to TE Kyle Rudolph, but Smith settled in on the second drive and looked solid in his protections.
“I wish we would have did better the first drive, but you live and you learn, watched it on the film and saw where we messed up at and came back and worked on it (Sunday),” Smith said.
“We just didn’t execute properly (on the first drive). Just a lot of things. I didn’t shoot my hands in pass protection. There was just a lot we didn’t do.”
The Vikings went three-and-out on the first drive – all passing plays – but saw better success on the second drive. With the Vikings’ starters still in the game and most of the Bengals’ starters out on defense, the Vikings moved the ball from their own 4-yard line into Bengals territory before QB Teddy Bridgewater stepped up in the pocket and hit Charles Johnson on a 49-yard touchdown pass to give Minnesota a 7-0 lead and end the night for its starters.
For Smith, it was affirmation that he is getting entrenched as a starter for the Vikings after seven seasons in Cincinnati.
“I’m picking up everything really well. I have the playbook down pat,” he said. “For the most part, everything is in and just doing a great job right now working on my technique.”
Smith is in a new offense for the first time since being drafted by the Bengals in 2009 and has had the additional challenge of trying to play next to different right guards.
Although Brandon Fusco was expected to win that job, he was held out of Friday’s game and hasn’t practiced since. That put Joe Berger, the starting center last year as an injury fill-in for John Sullivan, next to Smith.
“I’m fine working next to Fusco, Joe, Willie (Beavers) a few times. Just building that camaraderie with the guy, whoever I’m playing next to,” Smith said. “Just making sure I handle my business and making sure we’re on the same page.”
Overall, Zimmer seemed relatively pleased with the pass protection from the first-team offensive line, but the Vikings had some struggles running the ball. Jerick McKinnon ran six times for 8 yards behind the first-team offensive line, all of those runs coming against the Cincinnati’s second-team defense.
“They were pretty good in protection,” Zimmer said. “In the run game, it wasn’t all offensive line, we had a few misses on some of their unorthodox stuff.”